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The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six Months Among the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs, and Volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands. Bird, Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy), 1831–1904.
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HILO. June 1.

MR. and Mrs. Severance and I have just retured from a three-days' expedition to Puna in the south of Hawaii, and I preferred their agreeable company even to solitude! My sociable Kahélé was also pleased, and consequently behaved very well. We were compelled to ride for twenty-three miles in single file, owing to the extreme narrowness of the lava track, which has been literally hammered down in some places to make it passable even for shod horses. We were a party of four, and a very fat policeman on a very fat horse brought up the rear.

At some distance from Hilo there is a glorious burst of tropical forest, and then the track passes into green grass dotted over with clumps of the pandanus and the beautiful eugenia. In that hot dry district the fruit was already ripe, and we quenched our thirst with it. The “native apple,” as it is called, is of such a brilliant crimson colour as to be hardly less beautiful than the flowers. The rind is very thin, and the inside is white, juicy, and very slightly acidulated. We were always near the sea, and the surf kept bursting up behind the trees in great snowy drifts, and every opening gave us a glimpse of deep blue water. The coast the whole way is composed of great blocks of very hard black lava, more or less elevated, upon which the surges break in perpetual thunder.

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Suddenly the verdure ceased, and we emerged upon a hideous scene, one of the many lava flows from Kilauea, an irregular branching stream, about a mile broad. It is suggestive of fearful work on the part of nature, for here the volcano has not created but destroyed. The black tumbled sea mocked the bright sunshine, all tossed, jagged, spiked, twirled, thrown heap on heap, broken, rifted, upheaved in great masses, burrowing in ravines of its own making, full of broken bubble caves, and torn by a-a streams. Close to the track crystals of olivine lie in great profusion, and in a few of the crevices there are young plants of a fern which everywhere has the audacity to act as the herald of vegetation.

Beyond this desert the country is different in its features from the rest of the island, a green smiling land of Beulah, varied by lines of craters covered within and without with vegetation. For thirty miles the track passes under the deep shade of coco palms, of which Puna is the true home; and from under their feathery shadow, and from amidst the dark leafage of the breadfruit, gleamed the rose-crimson apples of the eugenia, and the golden balls of the guava. I have not before seen this exquisite palm to advantage, for those which fringe the coast have, as compared with these, a look of tattered, sombre, harassed antiquity. Here they stood in thousands, young as well as old, their fronds gigantic, their stems curving every way, and the golden light, which is peculiar to them, toned into a golden green. They were loaded with fruit in all stages, indeed it is produced in such abundance that thousands of nuts he unheeded on page: 362 the ground. Animals, including dogs and cats, revel in the meat, and in the scarcity of good water the milk is a useful substitute.

Late in the afternoon we reached our destination, a comfortable frame house, on one of those fine natural lawns in which Hawaii abounds. A shower at seven each morning keeps Puna always green. Our kind host, a German, married to a native woman, served our meals in a house made of grass and bamboo; but the wife and children, as is usual in these cases, never appeared at table, and contented themselves with contemplating us at a great distance.

The next afternoon we rode to one of the natural curiosities of Puna, which gave me intense pleasure. It lies at the base of a cone crowned with a heiau and a clump of coco palms. Passing among bread-fruit and guavas into a palm grove of exquisite beauty, we came suddenly upon a lofty wooded cliff of hard basaltic rock, with ferns growing out of every crevice in its ragged but perpendicular sides. At its feet is a cleft about 60 feet long, 16 wide, and 18 deep, full of water at a temperature of 90°. This has an absolute transparency of a singular kind, and perpetrates wonderful optical illusions. Every thing put into it is transformed. The rocks, broken timber, and old cocoa nuts which lie below it, are a frosted blue; the dusky skins of natives are changed to alabaster; and as my companion, in a light print holuku, swam to and fro, her feet and hands became like polished marble tinged with blue, and her dress floated through the water as if woven of blue light. Everything page: 363 about this spring is far more striking and beautiful than the colour in the blue grotto of Capri. It is heaven in the water, a jewelled floor of marvels, “a sea of glass,” “like unto sapphire,” a type, perhaps, of that on which the blessed stand before the throne of God. Above, the feathery palms rose into the crystalline blue, and made an amber light below, and all fair and lovely things were mirrored in the wonderful waters. The specific gravity must be much greater than that of ordinary water, for it did not seem possible to sink, or even be thoroughly immersed in it. The mercury in the air was 79°, but on coming out of the water we felt quite chilly.

I like Puna. It is like nothing else, but something about it made us feel as if we were dwelling in a castle of indolence. I developed a capacity for doing nothing, which horrified me, and except when we energised ourselves to go to the hot spring, my companions and I were content to dream in the verandah, and watch the lengthening shadows, and drink cocoa-nut milk, till the abrupt exit of the sun startled us, and we saw the young moon carrying the old one tenderly, and a fitful glare 60 miles away, where the solemn fires of Manna Loa are burning at a height of nearly 14,000 feet.


There are many “littles,” but few “mickles” here. It is among the last that two foreign gentlemen have successfully accomplished the ascent of Mauna Loa, and the mystery of its fires is solved. I write “successfully,” as they went up and down in safety, but they were involved page: 364 in a series of pilikias: girths, stirrup-leathers, and cruppers slipping and breaking, and their sufferings on the summit from cold and mountain sickness appear to have been nearly incapacitating. Although much excited, they are collected enough to pronounce it “the most sublime sight ever seen.” They, as well as several natives who have passed by Kilauea, report it as in full activity which bears against the assertion that the flank crater becomes quiet when the summit crater is active.

Another and sadder “mickle” has been the departure of ten lepers for Molokai. The Kilauea, with the Marshal, and Mr. Wilder who embodies the Board of Health, has just left the bay, taking away forty lepers on this cruise; and the relations of those who have been taken from Hilo are still howling on the beach. When one hears the wailing, and sees the temporary agony of the separated relatives, one longs for “the days of the Son of Man,” and that his healing touch, as of old in Galilee, might cleanse these unfortunates. Nine of the lepers were sent on board from the temporary pest-house, but their case, though deeply commiserated, has been overshadowed by that of the talented half-white, “Bill Ragsdale,” whom I mentioned in one of my earlier letters, and who is certainly the most “notorious” man in Hilo. He has a remarkable gift of eloquence, both in English and Hawaiian: a combination of pathos, invective, and salcasm; and his manner, though theatrical, is considered perfect by his native admirers. His moral character, however, has been very low, which makes the outburst of feeling at his fate the more remarkable.

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Yesterday, he wrote a letter to Sheriff Severance, giving himself up as a leper to be dealt with by the law, expressing himself as ready to be expatriated to-day, but requesting that he might not be put into the leper-house, and that he might go on board the steamer alone. The fact of his giving himself up excited much sympathy, as, in his case, the signs of the malady are hardly apparent, and he might have escaped suspicion for some time.

He was riding about all this morning, taking leave of people, and of the pleasant Hilo lanes, which he will never see again, and just as the steamer was weighing anchor, walked down to the shore as carefully dressed as usual, decorated with leis of ohia and gardenia, and escorted by nearly the whole native population. On my first landing here, the glee club, singing and flower-clad, went out to meet him;—now tears and sobs accompanied him, and his countrymen and women clung to him, kissing him, to the last moment, whilst all the foreigners shook hands as they offered him their good wishes. He made a short speech in native, urging quiet submission to the stringent measures which government is taking in order to stamp out leprosy, and then said a few words in English. His last words, as he stepped into the boat, were to all: “Aloha, may God bless you, my brothers,” and then the whale boat took him the first stage towards his living grave. He took a horse, a Bible, and some legal books with him; and, doubtless, in consideration of the promillent positions he has filled, specially that of interpreter to the Legislature, unusual indulgence will be granted to him.

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At the weekly prayer meeting held this evening in the foreign church, the medical officer gave a very pathetic account of his interview with him this morning, in which he had feelingly requested the prayers of the church. It was with unusual fervour afterwards that prayer was offered, not for him only, but for “all those who, living, have this day been consigned to the oblivion of the grave, and for the five hundred of our fellow-subjects now suffering on Molokai.” A noble instance of devotion has just been given by Father Damiens, a Belgian priest, who has gone to spend his life amidst the hideous scenes, and the sickness and death of the ghastly valley of Kalawao.



IN 1865, the Hawaiian Legislature, recognizing the disastrous fact that leprosy is at once contagious and incurable, passed an act to prevent its spread, and eventually the Board of Health established a leper settlement on the island of Molokai for the isolation of lepers. In carrying out the painful task of weeding out and exiling the sufferers, the officials employed met with unusual difficulties; and the general foreign community was not itself aware of the importance of making an attempt to “stamp out” the disease, until the beginning of Lunalilo's reign, when the apparently rapid spread of leprosy, and sundry rumours that others than natives were affected by it, excited general alarm, and not unreasonably, for page: 367 medical science, after protracted investigation, knows less of leprosy than of cholera. Nor are medical men wholly agreed as to the manner in which infection is communicated; and, as the white residents on the islands associate very freely and intimately with the natives, eating poi out of their calabashes, and sleeping in their houses and on their mats, there was just cause for uneasiness.

The natives themselves have been, and still are, perfectly reckless about the risk of contagion, and although the family instinct among them is singularly weak, the gregarious or social instinct is singularly strong, and it has been found impossible to induce them to give up smoking the pipes, wearing the clothes, and sleeping on the mats of lepers, which three things are universally regarded by medical men as undoubted sources of infection. At the beginning of 1873, it was estimated that nearly 400 lepers were scattered up and down the islands, living among their families and friends, and the healthy associated with them in complete apathy or fatalism. However bloated the face and glazed the eyes, or however swollen or decayed the limbs were, the persons so afflicted appeared neither to scare nor disgust their friends, and, therefore, Hawaii has absolutely needed the coercive segregation of these living foci of disease. When the search for lepers was made, the natives hid their friends away under mats, and in forests and caves, till the peril of separation was over, and if they sought medical advice, they rejected foreign educated aid in favour of the highly paid services of Chinese and native quacks, who professed to work a cure by means of loathsome ointments and page: 368 decoctions, and abominable broths worthy of the witches' cauldron.

However, as the year passed on, lepers were “informed against,” and it became the painful duty of the sheriffs of the islands, on the statement of a doctor that any individual was truly a leper, to commit him for life to Molokai. Some, whose swollen faces and glassy goggle eyes left no room for hope of escape, gave themselves up; and a few, who, like Mr. Ragsdale, might have remained among their fellows almost without suspicion, surrendered themselves in a way which reflects much credit upon them. Mr. Park, the Marshal, and Mr. Wilder, of the Board of Health, went round the islands repeatedly in the Kilauea, and performed the painful duty of collecting the victims, with true sympathy and kindness. The woe of those who were taken, the dismal wailings of those who were left, and the agonised partings, when friends and relatives clung to the swollen limbs and kissed the glistering bloated faces of those who were exiled from them for ever, I shall never forget.

There were no individual distinctions made among the sufferers. Queen Emma's cousin, a man of property, and Mr. Ragsdale, the most influential lawyer among the half-whites, shared the same doom as poor Upa, the volcano guide, and stricken Chinamen and labourers from the plantations. Before the search slackened, between three and four hundred men, women, and children were gathered out from among their families, and placed on Molokai.

Between 1866 and April 1874, eleven hundred and forty- page: 369 five lepers, five hundred and sixty of whom were sent from Kahili in the spring of 1872, have arrived on Molokai, of which number four hundred and forty-two have died, the majority of the deaths having occurred since the beginning of Lunalilo's reign, when the work of segregation was undertaken in earnest. At the present time the number on the island is 703, including 22 children. These unfortunates are necessarily pauperised, and the small Hawaiian kingdom finds itself much burdened by their support. The strain on the national resources is very great, and it is not surprising that officials called upon to meet such a sad emergency should be assailed in all quarters of the globe by sentimental criticism and misstatements regarding the provision made for the lepers on Molokai. Most of these are unfounded, and the members of the Board of Health deserve great credit both for their humanity and for their prompt and careful attention to the complaints made by the sufferers.

At present the two obvious blots on the system are, the insufficient house accommodation, involving a herding together which is repulsive to foreign, though not to native, ideas; and the absence of a resident physician to prescribe for the ailments from which leprosy is no exemption. Molokai, the island of exile, is Molokai aina pali, “the land of precipices,” in the old native mélés, and its walls of rock rise perpendicularly from the sea to a height varying from 1000 to 2500 feet, in extreme grandeur and picturesqueness, and are slashed, as on IHawaii, by gulches opening out on natural lawns on the sea level. The place chosen for the centralization and page: 370 segregation of leprosy is a most singular plain of about 20,000 acres, hemmed in between the sea and a precipice 2000 feet high, passable only where a zigzag bridle track swings over its face, so narrow and difficult that it has been found impossible to get cattle down over it, so that the leper settlement below has depended for its supplies of fresh meat upon vessels. The settlement is accessible also by a very difficult landing at Kalaupapa on the windward side of Molokai.

Three miles inland from Kalaupapa is the leper village of Kalawao, which may safely be pronounced one of the most horrible spots on all the earth; a home of hideous disease and slow coming death, with which science in despair has ceased to grapple; a community of doomed beings, socially dead, “whose only business is to perish;” wifeless husbands, husbandless wives, children without parents, and parents without children; men and women who have “no more a portion for ever in anything that is clone under the sun,” condemned to watch the repulsive steps by which each of their doomed fellows passes down to a loathsome death, knowing that by the same they too must pass.

A small stone church near the landing, and another at Kalawao, tell of the extraordinary devotion of a Catholic priest, who, with every prospect of advancement in his Church, and with youth, culture, and refinement to hold him back from the sacrifice, is in this hideous valley, a self exiled man, for Christ's sake. It was singular to hear the burst of spontaneous admiration which his act elicited. No unworthy motives were suggested, all page: 371 envious speech was hushed; it was almost forgotten by the most rigid Protestants that Father Damiens, who has literally followed the example of Christ by “laying down his life for the brethren,” is a Romish priest, and an intuition, higher than all reasoning, hastened to number him with “the noble army of martyrs.”

In Kalawao are placed not only the greater number of the lepers, but the hospital buildings. Most of the victims are of the poorer classes and live in brown huts; but two of rank, Mrs. Napela and the Hon. P.Y. Kaeo, Queen Emma's cousin, have neat wooden cottages on the way from the landing, with every comfort which their means can provide for them. The hospital buildings are about twelve in number, well and airily situated on a height; they are built of wood thoroughly whitewashed, and are enclosed by a fence. Although it is hoped that a leper hospital is not to be a permanent institution of the kingdom, the soft green grass of the enclosure has been liberally planted with algaroba trees, which in a year or two will form a goodly shade, and water has been brought in from a distance at considerable expense, so that an abundant supply is always at hand. The lepers are dying fast, and the number of advanced cases in the hospital averages forty. In the centre of the hospital square there are the office buildings, including the dispensary, which is well supplied with medicines, so that in the absence of a doctor, common ailments may be treated by an intelligent English leper. The superintendent's office, where the accounts and statistics of the settlement are kept, and where the leper governor holds his leper court, and the page: 372 post-office, are also within the enclosure; but the true governor and law-giver is Death.

When Mr. Ragsdale left Hilo as a leper, the course he was likely to take on Molokai could not be accurately forecasted; and it was felt that the presence in the leper community of a man of his gift of eloquence and influence might either be an invaluable assistance to the government, or else a serious embarrassment. In every position he had hitherto occupied, he had acquired and retained a remarkable notoriety; and no stranger could visit the islands without hearing of poor “Bill Ragsdale's” gifts, and the grievous failings by which they were accompanied.

Hitherto the hopes of his well wishers have been fulfilled, and the government has found in him a most energetic as well as prudent agent. “It is better to be first in Britain than second in Rome;” and probably this unfortunate man, superintendent of the leper settlement, and popularly known as “Governor Ragsdale,” has found a nobler scope for his ambition among his doomed brethren than in any previous position. His remarkable power of influencing his countrymen is at present used for their well being; and though his authority is practically almost absolute, owing to the isolation of the community, and its position almost outside the operation of law, he has hitherto used it with good faith and moderation. He is nominally assisted in his duties by a committee of twenty chosen from among the lepers themselves; but from his superior education page: 373 and native mental ascendancy, all immediate matters in the settlement are decided by his judgment alone.

The rations of food are ample and of good quality, and notwithstanding the increase in the number of lepers, and the difficulty of communication, there has not been any authenticated case of want. Each leper receives weekly 21 lbs. of paiai, and from 5 to 6 of beef, and when these fail to be landed, 9 lbs. of rice, 1 lb. of sugar, and 4 lbs. of salmon. Soap and clothing are also supplied; but, for all beyond these necessaries, the lepers are dependent on their own industry, if they are able to exercise it, and the kindness of their friends. Coffee, tobacco, pipes, extra clothing, knives, toys, books, pictures, working implements and materials, have all been possessed by them in happier days; and though packages of such things have been sent by the charitable for distribution by Father Damiens, it is not possible for island benevolence fully to meet an emergency and needs so disproportionate to the population and resources of the kingdom. Besides the two Catholic churches, there are a Protestant chapel, with a pastor, himself a leper, who is a regularly ordained minister of the Hawaiian Board, and two school-houses, where the twenty-two children of the settlement receive instruction in Hawaiian from a leper teacher. There is a store, too, where those who are assisted by their friends can purchase small luxuries, which are sold at just such an advance on cost as is sufficient to clear the expense of freight. The taste for ornament has not died out in either sex, and women are to be seen in Kalawao, hideous and bloated page: 374 beyond description, decorated with leis of flowers, and looking for admiration out of their glazed and goggle eyes.

King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani have paid a visit to the settlement, and were received with hearty alohas, and the music of a leper band. The king made a short address to the lepers, the substance of which was “that his heart was grieved with the necessity which had separated these, his subjects, from their homes and families, a necessity which they themselves recognised and acquiesced in, and it should be the earnest desire of himself and his government to render their condition in exile as comfortable as possible.” While he spoke, though it is supposed that a merciful apathy attends upon leprosy, his hideous audience showed signs of deep feeling, and many shed tears at his thoughtfulness in coming to visit those, who, to use their own touching expression, were “already in the grave.”

The account which follows is from the pen of a gentleman who accompanied the king, and visited the hospital on the same occasion, in company with two members of the Board of Health.

“As our party stepped on shore, we found the lepers assembled to the number of two or three hundred—there are 697 all told in the settlement—for they had heard in advance of our coming, and our ears were greeted with the sound of lively music. This proceeded from the ‘band,’ consisting of a drum, a fife, and two flutes, rather skilfully played upon by four young lads, whose visages were horribly marked and disfigured with leprosy. The page: 375 sprightly airs with which these poor creatures welcomed the arrival of the party, sounded strangely incongruous and out of place, and grated harshly upon our feelings. And then as we proceeded up the beach, and the crowd gathered about us, eager and anxious for a recognition or a kind word of greeting-oh, the repulsive and sickening libels and distorted caricatures of the human face divine upon which we looked! And as they evidently read the ill-concealed aversion in our countenances, they withdrew the half-proffered hand, and slunk back with hanging heads. They felt again that they were lepers, the outcasts of society, and must not contaminate us with their touch. A few cheerful words of inquiry from the physician, Dr. Trousseau, addressed to individuals as to their particular cases, broke the embarrassment of this first meeting, and soon the crowd were chatting and laughing just like any other crowd of thoughtless Hawaiians, and with but few exceptions, these unfortunate exiles showed no signs of the settled melancholy that would naturally be looked for from people so hopelessly situated. Very happy were they when spoken to, and quite ready to answer any questions. We saw numbers whom we had known in years past, and who, having disappeared, we had thought dead. One we had knlown as a Representative, and a very intelligent one, too, in the Legislature of 1868. On greeting him as an old-time acquaintance, he observed, ‘Yes, we meet again—in this living grave!’ He is a man of no little. consideration among the people, being entrusted by the Board of Health with the care of the store which is kept page: 376 here for the sale of such goods as the people require. All do not appear to be lepers who are leprous. We saw numbers who might pass along our streets any day without being suspected of the taint. They had it, however, in one way or another. Sometimes on the extremities only, eating away the flesh and rotting the bones of the hands or feet; and sometimes only appearing in black and indurated spots on the skin, noticed only on a somewhat close examination. This last sort is said to be the worst, as being most surely fatal and easiest transmitted. We saw women who had the disease in this stage, walking about, whom it was difficult to believe were lepers.

“If our sensibilities were shocked at the sight of the crowd of lepers we had met at the beach, walking about in physical strength and activity, how shall we describe our sensations in looking upon these loathsome creatures in the hospital, in whom it was indeed hard to recognise anything human? The rooms were cleanly kept and well ventilated, but the atmosphere within was pervaded with the sickening odour of the grave. At each end, squatted or lying prone on their respective mats or mattresses, were the yet breathing corpses of lepers in the last stages of various forms of the disease, who glanced inquisitively at us for a moment out of their ghoul-like eyes—those who were not already beyond seeing—and then withdrew within their dreadful selves. Was there ever a more pitiful sight?

“In one room we saw a sight that will ever remain fixed indelibly on the tablets of memory. A little blue-eyed, flaxen haired child, apparently three or four years page: 377 old, a half-caste, that looked up at us with an expression of timorous longing to be caressed and loved; but alas, in its glassy eyes and transparent cheeks were the unmistakable signs of the curse—the sin of the parents visited upon the child!

“In another room was one—a mass of rotting flesh, with but little semblance of humanity remaining—who was dying, and whose breath came hurried and obstructed. A few hours at most, and his troubles would be over, and his happy release arrive. There had been fourteen deaths in the settlement during the previous fortnight. On the day of our visit there were fifty-eight inmates of the hospital.”

Though the lifting of the veil of mystery which hangs over the death valley of Molokai discloses some of the most woeful features of the curse, it is a relief to know the worst, and that the poor leprous outcasts in their “living grave” are not outside the pale of humanity and a judicious philanthropy. All that can be done for them is to encourage their remaining capacities for industry, and to smooth, as far as is possible, the journey of death. The Hawaiian Government is doing its best to “stamp out” the disease, and to provide for the comfort of those who are isolated; and, with the limited means at its disposal, has acted with an efficiency and humanity worthy of the foremost of civilised countries.